I conducted a straw poll that confirmed my suspicions: Other consultants, executive directors and development directors get the same blank stare from board members that I do when I tell them their job includes an active partnership in raising money. We all know that the economy has created a situation of higher human service needs and, at the same time, a decrease in foundation resources.
Now, more than ever, board members need to tap into the community philanthropy base that’s out there: individual donors. And they are out there. Giving USA’s latest annual report reaffirms a consistent trend–more than 70 percent of philanthropy comes from individual donations.
In this article, I’d like to offer some simple ways to increase your board’s comfort zone and strengthen your board members’ partnership with you and your organization to impact the bottom line. I’ll be relentlessly repeating the three important components of a successful individual donor effort: Acquire, Retain and Upgrade. Your board may need some support in cultivating donors. Make their job as easy and effective as possible. As with any motivational strategy, the more your board members get positive results, the more enthusiastic they will be to continue their participation.
Develop your key messages
Work with your board on simple, consistent messages that will convey to prospects that your organization:
Is differentiated and unique from other organizations;
Will use their investment efficiently;
Provides programming with measurable results; and
Has a compelling mission and vision that you believe in.
Leverage your board’s strengths
Not all board members are good or comfortable at all aspects of fundraising, and there’s no sense trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. Help your board choose their own action steps – all with the goal of Attracting, Retaining and Upgrading donors. Possible ways to contribute include:
Give a significant “leadership” gift
Identify prospective donors
Design and participate in fundraising activities and events
Engage in media and community outreach
Recruit other people who can join your work
Once your board members select areas of participation, move on to your strategies to Acquire, Retain and Upgrade your donors. It will be important to identify a collaborating “champion” or champions on the board to shepherd its development activities, ensuring that the work plan moves toward the organization’s funding goals.
Setting the stage in your community
Raise your organization’s visibility with strategies that need not be complicated or costly. Using the key messaging your organization has agreed on, board members should be actively involved in garnering attention, reputation and donor prospects by helping with:
Media coverage: Plan for four newsworthy events or photo opportunities during the year; match each event/opportunity with a compatible reporter (i.e., the education editor or the sports editor); then make a phone call and send him or her a compelling press release. You are doing them a service by offering them great fill for their assignments.
Community events and visibility: Get invited to host a table at a community-wide event, join committees and task forces, show up at affairs and network continually throughout the community.
Constant ambassadorship: I am like the old stereotype of an insurance salesperson. I am always on the lookout for prospects. Sell, sell, sell. If someone is interested, make sure you know how to contact them to send them follow-up materials.
Personalize every strategy you and your board uses
Take care that each interaction with prospects is culturally sensitive. (You may want to refer to my article on fundraising in diverse communities if you have questions about this).
Infuse a sincere passion into the key messages you have developed. Whether making a personal visit or sending a letter of appeal built around a template, you will be asking an individual to support a cause to which your organization is deeply committed. It’s worth spending time on an activity that reminds your board why your mission is important to them, so that those feelings are potent and compelling when they promote the organization.
Using the messages that you have agreed on, help your board members customize them to an individual prospect, emphasizing common values and playing to people’s self-interest. If you will be approaching a business person, he or she may care about community economic stability; if it’s a parent or caregiver, he or she may care about access to services. The question is, “Why would they care?”
Acquire new donors
Have your board members make a list of at least 20 people each that they know who also believe in the organization’s mission. That means anyone, without presumptions about finances or life situation. It is critical here to remember that you will be giving someone an opportunity to invest in a cause they believe in. If they choose not to, for whatever reason, they are free to do so.
Provide specific guidance to the prospect regarding what level of giving he or she might consider. For instance, you might create levels of giving that resonate with the services you provide, such as a Heritage Patron level of $2,500 to support cultural programming or a Legacy Patron level of $500 to support citizenship education activities.
Whether they donate or not, continue to keep prospects informed about your organization’s plans and accomplishments. Remind board members to leave calling cards at places of business that they frequent (i.e., a copy shop or local restaurant) to convey your organization’s appreciation of their contribution in the community.
Continually acknowledge donors. Have your board thank donors promptly and personally with a phone call and handwritten note, acknowledge them in your materials (unless they wish to remain anonymous), invite them to events and involve them in other ways in your organization.
Identify a few dependable donors, including board members, who can give generous “leadership gifts” and, with their permission, leverage that information as motivation when you approach other prospects to join on or to increase their gift.
Provide past giving data to your board members, and have them identify individuals or businesses that they know. It may be time to suggest an increase to past donors. Use your judgment here, but it’s reasonable to believe that after several years, a $50 donation could be doubled and so on.
These loyal donors are also a great source for special board appeals when your organization embarks on a specific, short-term or emergency campaign.
The reality is that raising sufficient money to help your organization achieve its mission can be a relentless and daunting task regardless of the rewards. Your ability to engage your board as a partner in your efforts could be a “four-way win” situation: Your board members become inspired because they personally are making a difference, your donors are able to make an impact on a cause for which they believe, your job is just a little bit easier and, of course, your organization and the constituents you serve are the overall winners.
Learn more about Page to Practice nonprofit book summaries related to this article:
A Fundraising Guide for Nonprofit Board Members
Fundraising the SMART Way™: Predictable, Consistent Income Growth for Your Charity + Website
Super Boards: How Inspired Governance Transforms Your Organization
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